What Is Going On At Fox News?

March 16th, 2009 at 12:26 pm David Frum | 282 Comments |

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What the hell is going on at Fox News?

On Friday evening, shop Fox viewers were treated to an hour-long televangelical special starring Glenn Beck. (The opening of the show can be seen in our Watch Now window, there at right.)

Watching Beck cry for the cameras is always a treat, sick although I notice that Beck’s colleague Sheppard Smith did not enjoy it very much.

But other viewers certainly did like it. Beck is eclipsing Sean Hannity as Fox’s second-biggest story; very likely the ratings for the Friday special even overtook O’Reilly. Clearly, Beck is tapping into something. What?

Beck insists “It’s not about politics.” His special made a point of featuring images of Republican House leader John Boehner during his castigation of politicians “left and right” and both “the last administration and this administration.”

So what is it about then? What are Beck’s growing number of viewers responding to? On air, Beck promotes sinister conspiracy theories. Here he is on Fox & Friends, warning that the Obama administration is planning a totalitarian takeover:

We are a country that is headed towards socialism, totalitarianism, beyond your wildest dreams. I have to tell you: I’m doing a story tonight that I wanted to debunk – these FEMA camps – I’m tired of hearing about them – you know about them? -  I wanted to debunk them. We’ve now for several days done research on them.  I can’t debunk them! If you trust our government, it’s fine. If you have any kind of fear that we might be heading towards a totalitarian state: look out. Buckle up. There’s something going on in our country … that ain’t good.

And here he is suggesting that serial killers erupt because they are pushed to the wall by “political correctness.”

The audience for Beck’s Friday night special were each given copies of two books. One of them was Cleon Skousen’s Five Thousand Year Leap. Skousen, who died in 2006, is one of the legendary cranks of the conservative world, a John Bircher, a grand fantasist of theories about secret conspiracies between capitalists and communists to impose a one-world government under the control of David Rockefeller.

There’s always been a market for this junk of course. Once that market was reached via mimeographed newsletters. Now it’s being tapped by Fox News.

Conspiracy theories always flourish during economic downturns. They flourished during the terrible slump of the 1890s (when they captured even so fine a mind as Henry Adams) and again in the 1930s. Today’s slump – so vast, so difficult to understand – opens the door again.

Right-wing populist conspiracy theorizing often overlaps with the left-wing variety. And yet there are significant differences.

Beck speaks to a feeling that this powerlessness is somehow new, somehow a departure from the natural order of things:

This is your country, you are still in control. … Now you’re being forced to bail those people out. There are more of us than there are of them. We surround them.

It’s not a new message of course. In fact, big parts of it seem almost self-consciously copied from Peter Finch’s legendary declamation in the movie Network.

Of course, Finch was only pretending to be crazy. He was an actor performing a role. Then again – so probably is Glenn Beck.

But what about Fox News? What’s their excuse?

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282 Comments so far ↓

  • sinz54

    Chekote: The Left has always looked the other way at nearly EVERY totalitarian regime’s crimes. The Left looked the other way at Lenin’s crimes, Stalin’s crimes, Hitler’s crimes (until Hitler invaded their beloved Communist Russia), Khrushchev’s crimes, Mao’s crimes, and Pol Pot’s crimes. When Joan Baez tried to get her fellow lefties to say something about Pol Pot’s genocidal war, William Kunstler shot her down: “We don’t criticize socialist states!” Why? Because the Left thinks it’s busy with more important things–like destroying capitalism. The Western Left wouldn’t oppose any of the Communist regimes, because that would put them on the same side as the hated capitalist West. You saw a great example of that in 2001. Initially, the Western feminists had actually criticized the Taliban’s savagery toward women. But after 9-11, when the Bush Administration went to war against the Taliban, these feminists instantly swung 180 degrees, to OPPOSING any effort to remove the Taliban. Why? Because they couldn’t stand to be on the same side with Bush on anything!

  • sinz54

    The only way the GOP can break out of its present funk, is to make a conscious determination to win elections in Northern districts where the population is socially moderate. The GOP base has to get used to the idea that a hard-right candidate can’t win in Long Island NY, New Hampshire, Oregon, or Washington State. Yet if Republicans want to regain a majority in the Congress, they’re going to have to start winning outside the Bible Belt and Mountain States, in areas where the hard-right social agenda isn’t popular. Any GOP candidate who takes a district away from a Dem will have clout in the GOP. If the GOP can get some new blood into the party that is socially moderate and proud of it, it will help dilute the power of the Phyllis Schlafly wing of the GOP.

  • Chekote

    sinz. I was going to bring up the Pol Pot tragedy but he did it better than I could. I am disappointed in Steele not sticking to his guns regarding social issues. It is quite clear that social issues – particularly abortion – need to take a backseat. Steele should push for the party to move in a more socially moderate direction. But he can’t back down as soon as Perkins rears his head.

  • Chekote

    BTW. Here is Beck on the abortion issue. From the Daily Beast:

    “I was going to ask you about him, Michael Steele, who in a recent interview with GQ, just said he was pro-choice. Is that OK with you?

    Yeah, Im a libertarian, man. I am pro-life, but in my perfect world, we encourage people to make decisions that are pro-life. Thats the way it works.” I do wish that Frum would inform himself about Beck and Rush before he takes them on.

  • Bulldoglover100

    Other than the Far Right wing nutters are still causing our numbers to plummet with their unstable public actions and stupidity?

  • Bulldoglover100

    Chekote…educate yourself honey. That was before Steel the loon came back and kissed the rear neither reigons of the round mound of sound and apologized. Beck is a mentally unstable, much like Palin the magical thinking idiot, weeper who is unable to handle the fact that his party lost the election toa black man. Good gosh your on here all the time running at the mouth and you often have your stories so screwed up that it’s difficult to even read your posts. STOP reading all the Republican sites only. Educated yourself as some Republicans have been KNOWN to lie…just this week? FOX News/Rush/Beck and Palin just to name a few. Your disliking something someone says does not ever change the FACT they said it.

  • sinz54

    Chekote: Frum’s disenchantment with Beck wasn’t over abortion. It was over Beck’s conspiracy theorizing. Though I agree that even that is overblown. I remember all the conspiracy theories when Reagan was elected, when Clinton was elected, etc. It’s noise. The vast majority of the electorate pays no attention. All the stuff about Vince Foster didn’t keep Clinton from being re-elected. I believe that the nativism of a Tom Tancredo or a Michelle Malkin (and to a lesser extent, Beck) is a much worse problem for the GOP. It’s killing the GOP’s ability to win over Hispanics.

  • Fitz

    I think Fact Based (below) has a excellent take on how the big money crowd tends to manipulate the populist sentiments to advance their policy agenda. They are always the first to get paid off in any incoming administration. I also believe that multiple commentary (below) feds directly into leftist prejudice of SoCo. No analysis of SoCos is complete without the understanding that the popular press & various media attack them with the most ferocity & smear them with the most abandon. Look at the instant reaction Sarah Palin invoked (regardless of your thoughts on her leadership) The republican base does and can package its agenda in a way that appeals to moderates and doesnt turn off liberals (Think Tony Perkins) It is however swimming upstream against an extremely hostile elite who will exploit any opportunity. Think how low key McCain was on the social issues In one debate he mentioned the (indeed) health issues surrounding abortion are used to deny even minimal restrictions. (which is true) Chris Mathews spent the next two days talking about how Republicans dont care about womans health Now this is transparently absurd and extremely manipulative. As if he came out against mammograms & osteoporosis screenings. So tell the SoCos to back burner it, or to accept social moderates in certain states, or to shut up entirely. But please dont mistake the lay of the land created by a hostile elite for the actual goals, aims and temperament of so many of the republican faithful.

  • HollywoodBill

    The Palinistas had better start getting used to the reality that she doesn’t have a chance outside of the South and the Bible Belt. http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/PPP_Release_National_318.pdf

  • Fitz

    HollywoodBill – I believe you, plus She’s not “Presidential Timber” – not yet anyway. I think she should go to the Senate first and be vice pres perhaps…and then I would re-judge. Anyway – I am more interested (see below) as to the savaging she recieves in the popular culture & from the Press. This must have a considerbale impact on how those numbers you point to come out. After all – Obama was a unknown 1st time Senator.

  • Chekote

    Bulldog. If my posts bother you, skip them. BTW, Ras has the Dems and Reps basically tied in the Cogressional Generic Poll. So all this fuss about Rush, Beck is not working. People understand the difference between talk show hosts and elected officials. The former has not power to take away our money, the latter does.

  • Chekote

    sinz. Here are recent polls regarding illegal immigration:

    68% Say Those Who Employ Illegal Immigrants Should Be Punished http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics/68_say_those_who_employ_illegal_immigrants_should_be_punished

    73% Say Cops Should Check Immigration Status During Traffic Stops http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics2/73_say_cops_should_check_immigration_status_during_traffic_stops

    The vast majority of American want illegal immigration stopped. The opposition as done a great job labeling racist anyone who is trying to stop illegal immigration. Hispanics or any other group DOES NOT have a right to break immigration laws and expect to be rewarded. The Republican SHOULD NOT abadon the rule of law for a few votes. Instead, they should face down the opposition, Expose their cynical shouts of “racism” and make the case to the American people.

  • dendup

    I guess the GOP just hasn’t gotten is mesage out about illegal immigration. May it should play this clip as often as possible. BTW, this clip has a section on the trucking controversy covered by NM. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZoHlWIoCIo&feature=related

  • Rhampton

    This is the reality the social conservatives of the GOP refuse to accept — “The research data showed that one pattern emerged loud and clear: young adults rarely possess a biblical worldview. The current study found that less than one-half of one percent of adults in the Mosaic generation i.e., those aged 18 to 23 have a biblical worldview, compared to about one out of every nine older adults. Other groups that possess a below average likelihood of having a biblical worldview included people who describe themselves as liberal on social and political matters (also less than one-half of one percent); Catholics (2%); Democrats (4%) and residents of the Northeast (4%).” — Changes in Worldview Among Christians over the Past 13 Years, by the Barna Group, 2009

  • Ouroboros

    Chekote – the people on the left don’t think arabs can’t handle democracy because they’re arabs. The people on the left believe that in order for a democracy to function like ours, many other social institutions need to be in place already, and the people in their own country need to bring about democracy themselves. (And Republican American Presidents can’t go assassinating their democratically elected leaders, like we did to Iran.) You can’t force a culture upon another nation that doesn’t want you telling them what to do. If France had invaded the American Colonies to free them of English rule and install democracy, instead of the Americans launching their own war against England and then asking for help from the French, we would have fought the French off, and it isn’t our whiteness which would have precluded democracy. Are you following?

  • Ouroboros

    Chekote – you know Rass polls are generally slanted towards conservatives, right? Meaning, more self-identified conservatives are polled, per sample, than exist here in reality. I wish there was a simpler way I could explain this to you, but work is busy today.

  • anderbilt

    this whole blog is a prime example of why “building a conservatism that can win again” won’t happen because of blogs or efforts like this which are divisive. you can’t just “deride” away people like Rush and the millions who agree with his take on things. frankly a lot of people offering opinions on how the GOP should be aren’t the least bit interested in seeing it become a “winning” party again, so quite frankly i’m discounting a lot of this. again, beck will evolve as this whole thing progresses and time will tell if he has squandered some reserve, or found a way to build a totally new political energy. sadly, the new majority here, by the tone of these posts, is the majority that already got Obama elected. enough of it already.

  • Chekote

    Ouroboros. Apparently, Ras did just fine in predicting the outcome of the 2008 election. If you believe that illegal immigration is something that Americans approve of, go right ahead. I guess your point is that you need to have Western culture in order to understand and enjoy freedom and democracy. Another racist and bigoted comment from a leftie.

  • Rhampton

    “you can’t just ‘deride’ away people like Rush and the millions who agree with his take on things” — Rush Limbaugh has said many, many times that he wants does not want moderates in GOP. So when we moderates criticize him (and others like Leviv), we do so because we’ve heard this for years (see “Moderate RINOS Undermine the GOP” by Rush Limbaugh, 2005), we’re sick of it, and we’re going to fight for existence in the face of banishment.

  • Ouroboros

    Anderbilt- I’d love to see the Republican Party become a winning party again, provided it goes back to its Lincolnian Progressive roots, boots out the racists, imperialists, fascists, corporatists, and as many of its morons as possible. Meaning, I’d gladly join a Republican party that is to the left of the Democratic party, which I really don’t see as being all that left wing at all. We could even call ourselves Conservative. It’s not like the words have any meaning, anyhow. The conservatives in Australia call themselves Liberals. And every governing philosophy of American Conservatives has met with abject failure when employed within the real world. Like communism, the success of free-market capitalism depends on the laws of physics being different from what they really are. It’s all garbage. Do what works, and if it doesn’t work, try a different way. This is very simple problem solving.

  • J.S.

    I only watched Glenn Beck when he was on his CNN Headline News program. When he moved to Fox, I stopped watching. From what I’m hearing all the seeds of Beck’s worst aspects are now sprouting (if not in full bloom). He needs to check his impulses…(but then that would probably not appeal to the heads of FOX “news” who seem to enjoy the breathless, hysterical, unhinged rantings of “commentators.”)

  • Jeffriesboys

    I am so sick and tired of those who consider themselves the “voice” of the conservative movement. Mainly because they/you are always telling us (the real working class conservatives) that we must control ourselves, everything will be ok. Well, the way things are going EVERYTHING WILL NOT BE OK. We have entrusted those in Washington to watch out for our best interests, which they most decidedly are not doing. You should look out over the landscape. There is a reason why Beck is kicking butt and taking names on a cable network and in the 5:00 time slot no less. So, rather than bash Beck and Fox News, maybe, just maybe all you country club, snooty, RINO’s had better take notes and learn a thing or two. We are watching and organizing. If the GOP keeps this up, they will be TOTALLY IRRELEVANT in 2012 and beyond.

  • jhthel

    Same old crowd. Anyone that has friends or know people that listen to fox know that they are the same homogenous group of people over 40 white who never watch CNN or MSNBC. They just keep it on that same channel and have it as background noise as if it is comfort music. It makes them feel good that someone thinks like them. However, it is a small group of people 4-6 million that watch it or listen to talk radio. They are a vocal group but they have had their day. The conservative era is over. The reason the other networks have lower rating is that liberal or progressives watch a lot of different things and we get news from the internet also. Ronald Reagan is dead, you guys have hijacked the GOP it used to be a progressive party now its just a mean party with a brunch of people you would not to go to a party with. When I look at the GOP I think of Canada, you would think that the US is only made up of only white people. So you guys are going to lose for the next 10 to 15 years until you get your act together and stop letting that 4-6 million people speak for the rest of you.

  • Peter Principle

    “But what about Fox News? Whats their excuse?”DIANA: (drops the sheet of paper on HACKETT’s desk) “Did you see the overnights on the Network News? It has an 8 in New York and a 9 in L.A. and a 27 share in both cities. Last night, Howard Beale went on the air and yelled bullshit for two minutes, and I can tell you right now that tonight’s show will get a 30 share at least. I think we’ve lucked into something.Paddy ChayefskyNetwork1974And that’s what is going on at Fox News.

  • Avg. Joe

    I know it’s hard to believe that others don’t always share your values, David, but you’re truly showing how shallow an individual you are by trying to denegrate Beck’s push to wake people up and get them thinking. It’s scary to people like you, so you resort to calling them names and marginalizing them. Is that the best you’ve got? I guess if you don’t have any better ideas, you have to rely on tearing others down. You call that a career? So tell me David, what are you doing to help this country get back on track?……That’s what I thought: you’re not doing anything.

  • randaway

    What is going on at FOX is “tough love”.. Our government has been taken over by the unwashed masses and bleeding heart liberals. and.. much as I love Shep.. he has always been viewed at our house as a weeensie bit liberal.. in disguise… but.. Conservatives of all stripes are worrrrried about losing the America we grew up in… forever. Hooray for Beck even if he is a weeeensie bit dramatic.

  • rightsusan

    If the message is intended to be taken seriously, then how could any rational person act on TV in a way that would be utterly unacceptable at dinner?Glenn Beck is not mentally stable. Anyone failing to see this is suffering a self-imposed delusion.If Mr. Beck can form a rational thought, and in that thought he seriously fears socialism, then he should also know that by contrast alone he is doing more to promote it than anyone other than Baugh.

  • rightsusan

    What? “When I look at the GOP I think of Canada, …” Are you serious? Regan couldn’t have been elected dog catcher in Dildo Newfoundland. Mr. jhthel you know nothing of Canada.

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